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Breakfast

Eating the World Every Morning

A Stranger at Home in a Strange Land

Jan.06.16

A Stranger at Home in a Strange Land

by Elana Berkowitz

Naan in Dhaka

When I married into a Russian-Bangladeshi family based in Dhaka a few years ago, I feared we might not have much in common. My anxieties proved unfounded: at a minimum, we all share a deep fear of leaving the house hungry, even if we are only going to get breakfast. So we pre-game.

When my husband and I make our annual visit, we start the morning with an astringent, pinkish tea made from dried flowers that my in-laws call “Sudanese Rose,” but which is also called karkade, hibiscus, or, in the tribal hill country, tok—”sour” in Bangla. With the tea, we’ll snack on some slices of cheese, homemade olive and tamarind pickle, dry biscuits, and leftover salad dressed with lime and the pungent heat of mustard oil. The whole room is filled with the incense-like tang of mosquito coils burning in clay pots.

Dhaka’s 15+ million people are crammed into around 125 square miles, making it denser (and more exhausting) than almost any other city on earth. My in-laws moved past the edge of Dhaka after decades in the heart of the city, whose sprawl moves so rapidly that it seems to undulate.

The new digs mean we get to take a morning constitutional every day when we go for breakfast in a nearby village. We set out while the sun is still low, picking our way through a dusty construction site for an impressive 100-foot-wide road and then down a smaller road marked with farm plots of nascent rice shoots.

It’s still cool so I’m bundled in a sweater and down vest. Climate change has led to more extreme winters here in a place where many live in insufficient housing without any insulation or cold weather clothing; dozens of people routinely die of cold each year in a country where winters rarely go below 40F. People pass us in the road with their heads wrapped, toothache-style, in plaid scarves that seemingly half the country owns along with layer upon layer of insufficient t-shirts with improbable slogans from local factories (“Old is the New” “Party Time Pancakes”).

We arrive in the neighboring village—which consists of one narrow main drag of about twenty shops—and take low metal stools at a small, partially open-air roadside spot. Most Bangladeshis have simple rice for breakfast. We’re having a pricier but still typical option: parathas fresh from the griddle, a scallion egg omelet, daal, and a spiced vegetable mash. Instead of paratha, I opt for roti naan without oil or butter, hot from the clay oven. All of this is downed with multiple rounds of tea, always with condensed milk.

Bangladesh has fewer tourists than almost every other country on earth save hot spots like North Korea and Vanuatu. As a visitor and the very rare white guest ambling through their village on the outskirts of Dhaka, I’m a minor celebrity. The attentiveness of our waiter is intense; he flings the next puffed, browned naan right on top of the half-finished one I had begun just a moment earlier. Every few minutes, someone strolls by trying to seem quite busy doing something else while actually snapping a selfie with me somewhere in the frame. I speak pretty much two words of Bangla: “acha” (OK) and “dhonnobad” (thank you) so I basically just say that over and over again and smile broadly.

Each time I come to Dhaka I feel like I’m looking in at a different world I’ll never understand; each time, however, it begins to feel a bit more familiar as well, like how my breakfast order now rolls off my tongue.

Back home, my mother-in-law and I huddle in the kitchen with the two teenage girls who work for her, shelling an enormous, slouching sack of peas. We put on another pot of hibiscus tea.

Recover from Traumatic Border Crossings with Cheap Pancakes

May.26.17

Recover from Traumatic Border Crossings with Cheap Pancakes

by Dave Hazzan

Pancakes in Chisinau

At the London Pub in Chisinau, capital of Moldova, they try hard for that expensive steak house feel.

It’s dimly lit, with little lamps on the tables. The menu is extraordinary, the waiters neat, if taciturn. It’s somewhat spoiled by the big-screen TV that blasts Top 40 videos, but I suppose that’s how the Moldovans like it. I find it hard to concentrate on my food or conversation with Katy Perry at that volume.

Still, it’s worth it. For just 35 lei (about $2) they have big breakfasts with coffee and tea, of both the American and Moldovan varieties. I got cottage cheese pancakes, wrapped up and fried like egg rolls, delicious. We ate three Moldovan breakfasts in a row here.

We had only planned to be in Chisinau for a weekend, long enough to visit the Cricova wine caves and then move on to Ukraine. But you know what they say about the best laid plans.

On Sunday, we caught the 8:10 a.m. train out of Chisinau to Odessa, with no trouble. Customs didn’t even look at our passports, just asked us where we were from—Canada and New Zealand—and said, “Goodbye.”

At about 10:45 we got to the border. The Captain of the Border Patrol—who appear to be a branch of the military and all carry AK-47s and wear camo outfits—asked the Kiwi, my wife Jo, for her visa. She said she didn’t need one, we had checked. He called his boss, and he said she did. We were told to get our bags and follow him, off the train.

We sat in a little room outside the train tracks while some phone calls were made, and the captain made it clear we were going back to Moldova. They packed us into a Jeep and took us to the border. We were waved through a long line of Moldovans and Ukrainians, and then the captain pointed to the other side of a bridge—Moldova.

We didn’t enjoy being frog-marched off a train and detained, but we have to admit the Ukrainians were perfectly professional. The captain said something in Ukrainian about getting a taxi and bus on the other side, then bade us goodbye with a couple of handshakes.

Were it so simple. The other side of the border isn’t actually Moldova, but the breakaway republic of Transnistria. You won’t find this place on any map and it is unrecognized by any UN nation or body. But it has its own government, passport control, and frightening hammer- and-sickle flag and coat of arms.
Instead of stamping our passports, we got a slip of paper with “Transit visa” written on it. In town, we tried to find someone to drive us to Chisinau, since there are no buses there.

We eventually found an old man who would do it for 40 euros. He trundled us into his smoke-belching ca. 1975 Lada, and drove us to the real Moldovan border. There we switched cars and drivers, and someone, I guess with proper paperwork, drove us through Immigration and finally to Chisinau.

As soon as we got some internet, we checked Ukrainian passport control online. Turns out, New Zealanders can get visas on arrival—at the airport. Now we’re stuck here until Thursday, when we get our flight to Minsk. At least we’ve got London Pub.

Photo by: Jo Turner

Remember When Toast Didn’t Have Avocado Smeared All Over It?

May.25.17

Remember When Toast Didn’t Have Avocado Smeared All Over It?

by Henna Zamurd-Butt

Toast on the Isle of Wight

While moving through the town of Cowes at a pace usually reserved for dawdling teenagers, the ‘Well Bread’ shopfront enticed all of our appetites equally.

In the 18 years since we first met in a little commuter town outside London, my school friends and I have all taken dramatically divergent directions in life. After a decade of Christmastime catch-ups over syrupy coffees, we decided to celebrate our 30th birthdays collectively, and so ended up just off the southern coast of England on the Isle of Wight, happily forsaking cocktails and loud music for ice creams and rambling walks.

It takes on hour on the ferry from Southampton to cross the thin, shallow strip of water known as the Solent, enough time for a cup of watery tea before you arrive. Thanks to a trend set by Queen Victoria in the 1800s, the diamond-shaped island is usually teeming with holidaying families during school vacations, and boasts sandy beaches, a donkey sanctuary, and a garlic farm, among its many charms.

Pushing open the bakery door, we were greeted from behind the counter with the same gaze that we’d get as teenagers buying chocolate at the local newspaper shop: somewhere between disdain, disinterest, and familiarity. The little shop’s shelves heaved precariously with loaves of all kinds alongside wide, flat trays of school-dinner-style traybakes draped in thick icing. The floor space was taken up by long wooden bench tables.

Among the many shades of brown, I noticed a dish with two big, bright blocks of moderately mauled butter sitting in front of a couple, now deep into their breakfast at the end of one of the benches. Eyeing the brown paper bag signs which served as menus, I discovered the ‘all you can eat toast’ option, and so we sat down, equipped with our own loaf.

The bread was fresh and fragrant, the butter salty and softened, and to crown it there was an array of jams to be explored.

On no other occasion, in a world which seems to have turned on bread as a carbohydrate-rich enemy, would I have permitted such reckless abandon with the familiar. Breakfast toast is boring, and in London, my home city, now only acceptable in sourdough form smeared with mandatory avocado.

Holiday eating is for sampling little bites of the rare and the exotic, is it not?
At some point a second loaf appeared, and so we carried on, enjoying the simple pleasures. The perfect celebration of friendships ever-present, but now rarely indulged.

Where Better to Drink Coffee Than in the Chicken Capital of the Philippines?

May.24.17

Where Better to Drink Coffee Than in the Chicken Capital of the Philippines?

by Shirin Bhandari

Coffee in Bacolod

The colorful pre-war jeepney lets us off in the middle of a busy street. We make our way through the market in search of an early morning caffeine fix. Meats, fresh seafood, and vegetables are on display as we push against people haggling loudly. The aroma of coffee wafts by.

The city of Bacolod, in the Visayan Islands, is known for its sugar cane haciendas and for being the chicken capital of the Philippines. Skewered and grilled on a stick, or alive and ready to kill in a cockfighting pit, the city is obsessed with poultry. However, many are unaware of Bacalod’s coffee potential.

Café Excellente is an old and quaint coffee shop on the main thoroughfare of the central market. A group of rusted chairs and a long wooden bench serve as seats. A young boy crushes the coffee beans in a large industrial grinder. A large pot is on the boil. The beans are grown on the sub-tropical foothills of Mount Kanlaon and brought into town for trade.

Coffee was introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish conquistadors in the mid-18th century. The coffee seedlings initially came from Mexico, and were first planted in the fields of Batangas, south of Manila. Two hundred years ago, the Philippines was the world’s fourth-largest coffee producer, until insect infestation destroyed all the coffee trees in the late 19th century. Its coffee standing has declined, but there is now an interest among farmers in reviving the trade. The Philippines is one of only a few countries that can produce all four main coffee varieties—Robusta, Liberica, Arabica, and Excelsa.

The little café tucked inside the buzzing market is a far cry from the prohibitively complicated concoctions of Starbucks: here, 12 pesos buys you a hot cup. The freshly roasted coffee beans are filtered through local cheese-cloth called katcha and served to you in its purest form.

The fragrant coffee is presented in a small brown mug with a spoon on top. The dark liquid is strong and crisp, intense and rich in taste.

A man seated next to me has a can of sweet evaporated milk. He whisks a few drops into his coffee. The hawkers across the cafe wave and offer a variety of cakes and local pastries.

I settle with a sticky roll of rice in coconut milk with homegrown muscovado sugar, wrapped in banana leaf. The people at the neighboring table laugh as I try to figure out the logistics of unraveling the gluey cake. The first bite is corrosively sweet—but a perfect match for the underrated coffee of Bacolod.

We Should All Be So Lucky as to Have Beautiful and Boring Memories

May.23.17

We Should All Be So Lucky as to Have Beautiful and Boring Memories

by Jessica Furseth

Brunost in Norway

The house I grew up in was sold the year after I left home, and I never saw it again. It’s in the Trøndelag region of Norway in a village called Å—a single letter word meaning “still river,” named for a stream where the water sometimes runs so slowly you can see your reflection. It’s a beautiful place that was also very boring.

Every Norwegian breakfast table has two kinds of cheese: white and brown. The white is a mellow gouda, and the brown is a very different animal. Brunost—literally “brown cheese”—is made from whey, is caramel-like in flavor, with a texture that resembles fudge, but with a cheesy tang. Brunost is one of the most Norwegian things you’ll find: it’s ubiquitous and distinctive, and also plain and quotidian, just like the brown paper wrapped around school lunches.

As a teenager, living in that house in the village with the curious name, I’d often have Brunost for breakfast. I’d carve off a slice of bread, homemade by my mother, on the chopping board that you pulled out of the kitchen unit like a drawer. Salty butter came next, and then the special Norwegian cheese cutter, the only way to get nice slices off the sticky Brunost. I’d take my open-faced sandwich and go sit on top of the stocky dining room table that my father had made, resting my feet on the bench while looking out the window and eating in silence. It was always so quiet in that village, a beautiful place where nothing ever happened.

I live in London now, a place where everything happens all the time, and I haven’t been back inside that house in 16 years. But I can still walk through it in my mind, perfectly recalling the smallest details: the feel of the front door handle in my hand, the texture of the hallway linoleum, and which kitchen cupboard had my mother’s shopping list tacked on the inside.

Tine, Norway’s national dairy, makes 11 kinds of brown cheese these days, but anyone who knows anything will tell you there are really only three. The light and mild Fløtemysost is full of cream, the medium-flavored Gudbrandsdalsost is the original and most common, and the dark and rich Geitost is my favorite. It’s sharp and pungent, made purely out of goat’s milk. This was the one I’d put on those slices of bread early in the morning, all those years ago, and eat while looking out the window onto the snow-covered landscape. I can still remember the grain of the wooden table, the curve of the plate, and the salty tang of the caramel cheese. The memory is boring and beautiful, and it’s so close to the surface that I can taste it.

Is This the Best Sausageless Sausage Sandwich in Chile?

May.22.17

Is This the Best Sausageless Sausage Sandwich in Chile?

by Cristina Slattery

Choripán in Punta Arenas

At a quarter of eight in the morning, other cities might have been buzzing. At the end of March, Punta Arenas—the capital of Chile’s southernmost region—was still dark, and although teenagers in uniforms were heading to school, the city was quiet.

In the main square, there is a bronze statue of Hernando de Magallanes, as Ferdinand Magellan is known in Chile. People make a point of kissing the statue’s large foot—or at least rubbing it—to ensure they will one day return to Patagonia.

Coffee shops that had been open the night before were all closed now. “Desayuno? Dónde?” I asked a woman crossing the street. She looked perplexed, but not because she couldn’t understand the questions. A long moment followed. “Down that street, to the right, there is a place,” she said, pointing in the direction of the Strait of Magellan. Sure enough, on the right, a block from the center square, Kiosko Roca was open for business.

The room was packed. The royal-blue banners of the University of Chile and bright red ones of “La Roja,” the national soccer team, decorated the walls. Waitresses took orders rapidly from the mostly male crowd. Some people occupied seats at the counter and others stood in the center of the room waiting for a seat to be vacated, or were content to eat standing up. There was one free spot on a round stool at the very end of the counter.

Pieces of bread with a sauce resembling tomato paste appeared on the counter in front of the man to my right. “Choripán,” he explained. This is all that Kiosko Roca serves. Here, the choripán is a sandwich that comes with a sauce made from chorizo, with mayonnaise (chorimayo) or with cheese (choriqueso). At Kiosko Roca, the choripán is larger than an English muffin, but slightly smaller than an average bagel.

Brazilians, Uruguayans, Argentines, and Chileans are all partial to this sandwich, but it usually comes with a whole chorizo. Kiosko Roca uses the paste, but not the meat itself. They opened in 1932, so generations of Chileans know about Kiosko Roca’s sausageless style of choripán, even if they have never eaten one themselves.

I went for the choriqueso. After five or ten minutes—time seems to pass slowly when one is hungry—it arrived. The warm, freshly-baked bread with just a thin layer of melted white cheese was ideally suited to the crisp morning.

A few minutes later, it was time to leave. A short walk led to the boardwalk that bordered the Strait of Magellan. Tierra del Fuego was visible on the horizon, but just barely.

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